The Mighty Michelada

June 22 2014

On paper, the michelada is an affront to good taste. A spicy, salty beer that quite often contains a dash of clam juice? ¡Pero que asco! But somehow magically, impossibly, the combination of its disparate and contradictory ingredients make for something of an eminently drinkable elixir that goes down easy like summertime sweet tea.

Like the evergreen bloody mary, it’s also an ideal canvas for experimentation. While it’s usually prepared with some variation of tomato juice—Clamato (the “clam” in its clever portmanteau is critical) being the most widely-used—there are versions with or without clam, tomato or worcestershire sauce. Its constants are good Latin American lager, salt, spice, and lime.

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The drink’s name comes from mi chela helada (mi=my, chela=Mexican slang for beer, helada=iced), and is one of a number of cerveza preparadas that combine beer with other ingredients to make for a savory (but far classier) shandy of sorts. In my home state of New Mexico, we generally use the shortened “chelada” to mean Clamato-free while “michelada” always means the whole enchilada. Ahem. In some pockets of Mexico, moreover, it’s also called a “cielo rojo” (red sky).

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It’s difficult to find a widespread agreement on exactly what a standard michelada should contain, as ordering at any given bar (or from any given bartender) can net you a number of spicy limed up beer concoctions. So, Spanish speaker or otherwise, make sure you specify preferences and beer type: light lager is most common, but a darker lager makes for a deeper, richer drink (try it with Negra Modelo, a Vienna lager).

As an added bonus, it is also a rather effective hangover cure. Especially in Mexico’s maritime states like Jalisco and Veracruz, where seafood dishes like “caldo vuelve a la vida” (‘come-back-to-life soup’) have long been day-after staples, there’s a strong cultural belief that something in the mystical citrus-seafood-tomato triangle can cure what ails you. And whether scientifically born out or not, the michelada is a far more gratifying brunch accompaniment than any yuppy mimosa.

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Micheladas are simple and forgiving to prepare, so experiment according to your taste. Steer clear of ready-made versions, and instead opt for some quality citrus, your favorite hot sauce, and a few dashes more worcestershire sauce than most recipes recommend.

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Need Supply Co. Michelada Clásica (con Clamato)

Ice
Clamato
Lime
Kosher salt (to rim glass)
Cholula, Valentina or Tabasco (to taste)
Worcestershire sauce
Any Latin American lager (we recommend Famosa, Tecate, Pacifico, Negra Modelo, etc.)

Salt the rim of a large drinking glass and fill ¾ with ice. Fill just above the halfway mark with Clamato. Add hot sauce to taste, a liberal dash of worcestershire sauce and the juice from two lime wedges. Stir. Add lager and mix gently. Enjoy. Add more lager when you reach the halfway point. Enjoy.